It’s fair to say that I’m a worrier. Actually – as anyone who knows me well will tell you – that’s an understatement. My ability to find things to be anxious about in even the most non-threatening situation is unparalleled. And there is no greater hotbed of paranoia and fear than sexual health.
I have always been hyper-vigilant when it comes to STI screening. Because, well, you just never know do you? I’ve been getting checked regularly since my late teens. After every relationship, fling or brief encounter I will convince myself I’ve contracted all kinds of unpleasantness and hot-foot it to the nearest clinic to atone for my sins.
As such I have lost hours, if not days, of my life to waiting around in clinics. If you’ve ever had the good sense to get checked out, you will be all too familiar with this grim but necessary process.
No matter what time you arrive there’s always a huge wait. You sit there burning with embarrassment, increasingly convinced that your mild headache is conclusive proof you are riddled with syphilis. You wait for an initial consultation, you wait for swabs, you wait for blood tests. The whole process can easily require you to be absent from work for half a day, sweating and wondering what dramatic tale you can spin to your boss about what happened at “the dentist”.
So today I bring you glad tidings, my sexually conscientious friends! For as of this year, if you live in London, you can test yourself at home. For free.
I was so excited by this much-needed change, I took one for the team and tried it out.
The whole process is absurdly slick and simple. First stop is the Sexual Health London website, where I fill out my details and answer a few questions to determine my level of risk, and what I might need screening for. The service provides testing for a range of sexually transmitted infections including chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, syphilis, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. It’s comprehensive.
A couple of days later a small, discreet box arrives through my letterbox. No giant “TESTING KIT FOR GRUBBY SHAGGERS” signs to alert my neighbours to its presence. The kit contained a swab, a small tube, some strange contraptions that looked like plastic window keys, a clear instruction leaflet and a self-adhesive label for returning it. There’s even a sticker to seal the box when you’re done.
The swab is super easy and sorted in seconds – a quick whirl around and you’re done. The plastic keys – I discovered – are for the finger prick blood test. It’s a natty device that, when pressed down, pierces a small hole on the end of your finger. From here you are required to (and I really apologise for this word) “milk” your finger to get as much blood as possible to the end, and fill up the small tube provided.
Now, I’m not going to lie to you – this was not a pleasant experience. I’m squeamish and not great with blood tests at the best of times. The pricking only stung slightly, but the process of trying to then “milk” myself into a tiny tube was… challenging. I ended up dripping blood all over my bathroom floor, nearly passing out and having to puncture two other fingers as the damn things started clotting. Still, I’d take this any day over the waiting room of shame.
Everything was done, dusted and packaged up in about ten minutes. Then I simply stuck on the pre-paid returns label and popped it in a letterbox. It’s easier than returning something to ASOS.
The service promises results within four days – but only a couple of days later I receive a text saying my results are ready. All I do is log in to the online portal where I find my results and details of any next steps required. I’m all clear. And far less traumatised than usual.
This is a much-needed and positive step forward. There’s really no excuse not to get tested – and with “tracking” contraceptive methods like Natural Cycles coming into play, it’s never been more important to know you’re in good health. So just do it. Honestly, if I can deal with the blood test, you can too.